Have Agencies Become an Obstacle to Marketers' Goals?

We've Been too Slow on New-Media Front

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Noelle Weaver Noelle Weaver
This past weekend I was catching up on my reading. I came across a Newsweek article from several weeks ago titled "My Journey to the Top." In it, a quote from Atlantic Records President Julie Greenwald caught my eye. "Critics want to say that the music business is over. That couldn't be farther from the truth. We've just had to transform ourselves to meet the new ways people are experiencing music. Mobile. Digital. Song on TV. Strategic licensing -- our tools have changed but our outcome is still the same."

In many ways our own industry is experiencing the same evolution. The world is in a different place than it was five years ago. The way people consume communication has changed. They don't want to be sold to. They want to be informed and entertained. And they also, consequently, decide how, when and where that's going to happen based on their own interests. As you know, this has changed business models across the board. Several years later -- as a ripple effect -- it is finally forcing our industry to think differently too.

You see it too. Lately it has been hard to ignore. Every day the trades are littered with another story about an acquisition of some independent digital shop as the big boys struggle to keep up.

For some, hiring practices will need to change as we seek talent from outside of our industry, employees who have a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Case in point: Goodby announced that to avoid the risk of becoming irrelevant, "65 percent of the creative hires at Goodby can work on any aspect of a campaign, across disciplines."

Others will seek to redefine and rebrand. ANA is seeking to expand the place and definition of TV to include all video. Their Television Advertising Forum has been rebranded to the TV & Everything Video Forum. "The new name and expanded agenda recognize that the role of television in the media mix is being redefined and broadened. In addition to 'traditional' television, the TV & Everything Video Forum will explore the use of video on any type of screen or device --the computer/Internet, mobile, point of purchase, gaming, and more."

In fact, the speed of change in our industry will be hard to keep up with. I recently sat in a discussion where the word video was called passé and limiting and the marketers sitting around the table kept talking about the importance of "Sight, sound and motion."

Some of us will try to redefine our industry all together. In his keynote speech at last week's Creative Conference Mashup, Lee Clow proclaimed "an increasingly complex and creatively challenging media environment means that agencies' 'product' would no longer be defined as advertising, but as 'media arts. Everything we do now is media.'" And during the resent PSFK LA conference, Piers Fawkes dumped the word "marketing" from the program all together.

The most interesting trend of all is how many clients are starting to skip working with advertising or public relations shops and going straight to the new-media and technology companies. When I asked my client side friends why, I often got comments like:
  • "Agencies slow down the process."
  • "For all their talk of integrated thinking, they don't."
  • "I want new ideas not old ideas in new mediums"
  • "Why should I add another layer of costs? Agency's these days are only good at shuffling paper and creating process. I want new thinking, ideas and content."


That last one came from a friend of mine who works for a large package-goods company with four different agencies. And it has my mind spinning.

So many of us are changing because if we don't, we risk becoming obsolete. But we're still reacting to outside forces and in many ways, still two steps behind. How do we as an industry move from simply reacting to change to creating the change ourselves?
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